YOUR HEALTH: Relieving the itch

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – A few years ago, Jerry Kwentus woke up and started down a frustrating path.

"I developed a severe chronic itch over most of my body. Torso, arms, legs, neck and hands," he remembered.

The itching was relentless.

For two and a half years, he tried everything doctors prescribed.

Nothing helped.

"Overall, I was miserable. I couldn't sleep soundly at night and in the daytime, I couldn't concentrate."

Chronic itch affects up to 15% of the population and for many patients, it can be a life-changing condition because the urge to itch is always there.

Then he found Dr. Brian Kim at the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University in St. Louis.

"In severe forms, it is absolutely debilitating."

While searching for molecules in nerves that might be responsible for itch, Dr. Kim found one called JAK.

"All itch has to go through your nerves back up to your brain, so we thought it we can block this, maybe we can treat itch," explained Dr. Kim.

He looked for drugs that block JAK and found tofacitinib, a drug already FDA approved for rheumatoid arthritis.

"Every patient that's actually taken this medication has improved."

Results of Dr. Kim's study show patients on the drug had a nearly 80 percent improvement in their itch.

"The results have been remarkable," said Dr. Kim.   "Patients have been able to get their lives back. People are sleeping now that weren't sleeping."

TREATMENT:   Once a cause is identified, treatments for itchy skin may include corticosteroid creams, calcineurin inhibitors, or antidepressants.  If an internal disease is found, whether it's kidney disease, iron deficiency or a thyroid problem, treating that disease often relieves the itch.  Other treatments that doctors use now are essentially medications that have already been developed for other things.  One example is a medication called gabapentin.  It's used for diabetic nerve pain but doctors know that the same nerve fibers that cause pain can also involve itch.  Topical steroids that were designed for rashes are also sometimes used. (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/itchy-skin/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355010)

The drug changed Jerry's life.

"I began to feel better within the first hour after taking the very first pill. For me, it was a miracle drug."

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.